January 2002

Wednesday 2 January 2002 - Contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation

1. At this first meeting of the new year, the day after the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and the World Day of Peace, we want to renew our thanksgiving to God for the countless benefits with which, every day, he enriches our lives. At the same time, let us prolong our contemplation of the great mystery of the Incarnation that we are living these days, the heart of the liturgical season.

Reflecting on the expression of John, "the Word became flesh" (
Jn 1,14), the Church in her doctrinal reflection coined the term "Incarnation" to show that the Son of God fully and completely [pienamente e completamente] assumed human nature in order to realize in it and through it our salvation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls that belief in the true incarnation of the Son of God is the "distinctive sign" of the Christian faith (cf. CEC 463).

It is what we profess with the words of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: and by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man".

2. In the birth of the Son of God from the virginal womb of Mary, Christians recognize the infinite descent of the Most High to man and the whole of creation. In the Incarnation, God comes to visit his People: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David" (Lc 1,68-69). God's visit is never ineffective: he frees us from affliction and gives us hope, he brings us salvation and joy.

In the account of the birth of Jesus, we see that the glad news of the coming of the long-awaited Saviour is first brought to a group of poor shepherds as the Lukan Gospel relates: "An angel of the Lord appeared to them" (Lc 2,9). In this way St Luke, who is certainly the "Evangelist" of Christmas, wants to stress God's goodness and kindness for the humble and the lowly, to whom he manifests himself and who are usually better disposed to recognize and welcome him.

The sign given to the shepherds, the manifestation of the infinite majesty of God in a Child, is full of hope and promise: "This will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger (Lc 2,12).

This sort of message has an immediate echo in the humble, willing hearts of the shepherds. For them, the words that the Lord made known to them were real, they were an "event" (cf. Lc 2,15).

Thus they set out without delay, they found the sign promised to them and right away they became the first missionaries of the Gospel, spreading around them the Good News of the birth of Jesus.

2 3. In these days we have heard again the hymn of the angels in Bethlehem: "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to the men whom he loves" (Lc 2,14). This hymn must also be spread through the world that brings great hopes and extraordinary openings in every field but is also charged with strong tensions and difficulties. If in the new year that has just begun, humanity is to proceed on the paths of peace as soon and as surely as possible, all have to make an effective contribution.

Yesterday, on the World Day of Peace, I wished to emphasize the link between peace, justice and forgiveness. Truly "there is no peace without justice" and "there is no justice without forgiveness"! A strong desire for reconciliation must grow in everyone, built on a sincere will to forgive. May our prayers throughout the year become more powerful and more insistent, to obtain from God the gift of peace and brotherhood, especially in the sorely tried areas of the planet.

4. Let us enter the new year with confidence, imitating the faith and docility of Mary, who keeps and ponders in her heart (Lc 2,19) all the marvels that happened under her eyes. God himself, through his Only-begotten Son, brings about the full and definitive salvation of all humanity.

Let us contemplate the Virgin as she cradles Jesus in her arms, to give him to all mankind. Like her, let us contemplate and cherish in our hearts the great things that God does day by day in history.

Thus we will learn to recognize in our daily lives the constant intervention of divine Providence that guides everything with wisdom and love.

Once again, I wish you a Happy New Year!
* * * * *

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

Today I wish to extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially from Norway, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. A blessed New Year to you all!

Wednesday 9 January 2002 - Psalm 150 - Let every living being praise the Lord'

3 Ps 150

1. The hymn which just served as a support of our prayer is Psalm 150, the last canticle in the Psalter. The last word that rings out in Israel's book of prayers is alleluia, namely, the pure praise of God, and this is why the Psalm is presented twice in the Liturgy of Lauds, on the second and fourth Sundays.

The brief text is punctuated with a set of 10 imperatives repeating the same word, "hallelū", "praise!". As if they were eternal music and song, they never seem to end, rather like what happens with the famous Alleluia chorus of Handel's Messiah. Praise of God becomes like the continuous breath of the soul. As has been written, "this is one of the rewards for being human: quiet exaltation and the capacity for celebration; it is summed up well in a phrase that Rabbi Akiba offered his disciples: A song every day, / a song for every day" (A.J. Heschel, Chi č l'uomo?, Milan 1971, p. 178, the English title is Who is Man?).

2. Psalm 150 seems to unfold in three moments. At the beginning, in the first two verses (Ps 150,1-2) we fix our gaze on "the Lord" in "his sanctuary", on "his power", "his wonderful works", his "greatness". Then, in the second moment, as in a genuine musical movement, the orchestra of the temple of Zion is involved in praising the Lord (Ps 150,3-5b) that accompanies the sacred dances and songs. Finally, in the last verse of the Psalm (cf. Ps 150,5c) the universe appears, represented by "every living thing" or, if one wishes to follow the original Hebrew, by "everything that breathes". Life itself becomes praise, praise that rises to the Creator from the beings he created.

3. In our first encounter with Psalm 150, it will be enough to reflect on the first and last parts of the hymn. They frame the second part, the heart of the composition, that we shall examine in the future, the next time the Psalm is proposed by the Liturgy of Lauds.

The "sanctuary" is the first place where the musical and the prayerful theme unfolds (cf. Ps 150,1). The original Hebrew speaks of the pure, transcendent "sacred" area in which God dwells. It is then a reference to the horizon of heaven and paradise where, as the Book of the Apocalypse will explain, the eternal, perfect liturgy of the Lamb is celebrated (cf. for example, Ap 5,6-14). The mystery of God, in which the saints are welcomed for full communion, is a place of light and joy, of revelation and love. We can understand why the Septuagint translation and the Latin Vulgate use the word "saints" instead of "sanctuary": "Praise the Lord in his saints!"

4. From heaven our thought moves to earth, with an emphasis on the "mighty deeds" wrought by God that manifest "his great majesty" (Ps 150,2). These mighty deeds are described in Psalm 104 [105], that invites the Israelites to "meditate on all his wonderful works" (Ps 105,2), to remember "the wonderful works that he has done, his prodigies, and the judgements he uttered" (Ps 105,5). The Psalmist then recalls "the covenant which he [the Lord] made with Abraham" (Ps 105,9), the extraordinary story of Joseph, the miracles of the liberation from Egypt and the journey through the desert, and lastly, the gift of the land. Another Psalm speaks of the troubles from which the Lord delivers those who "cry" to him; those he sets free are asked repeatedly to "Let them thank the Lord for his mercy, for his wonderful works for the sons of men!" (Ps 107,8 Ps 107,15 Ps 107,21 Ps 107,31).

Thus in our Psalm we can understand the reference to "mighty deeds" as the original Hebrew says, that is, the powerful "prodigies" (cf. Ps 150,2) that God disseminates in the history of salvation. Praise becomes a profession of faith in God the Creator and Redeemer, a festive celebration of divine love that is revealed by creating and saving, by giving life and by delivering.

5. Thus we come to the last verse of Psalm 150 (cf. Ps 150,5c[6]). The Hebrew word used for the "living" who praise God refers to "breathing", as I said earlier, but also to something intimate and profound that is inherent in man.

Although one might think that all created life should be a hymn of praise to the Creator, it is more correct to maintain that the human creature has the primary role in this chorus of praise. Through the human person, spokesman for all creation, all living things praise the Lord. Our breath of life that also presupposes self-knowledge, awareness and freedom (cf. Pr 20,27) becomes the song and prayer of the whole of life that vibrates in the universe.

That is why all of us should address one another "with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord" with all our hearts (Ep 5,19).

6. In transcribing the verses of Psalm 150, the authors of the Hebrew manuscripts often portray the Menorah, the famous seven-branched candlestick set in the Holy of Holies of the temple of Jerusalem. In this way they suggest a beautiful interpretation of the Psalm, a true and proper Amen to the prayer that our "elder brothers" have always prayed: the whole man with all the instruments and musical forms that his genius has invented trumpet, harp, zither, drums, dance, strings, flutes, sounding cymbals, clashing cymbals, as the Psalm says as well as "everything that breathes", is invited to burn like the Menorah before the Holy of Holies, in a constant prayer of praise and thanksgiving.

In union with the Son, perfect voice of the whole universe that he created, let us too become a constant prayer before God's throne.

The Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Czech. To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

At the beginning of the New Year, I extend a special greeting to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Denmark and the United States of America. I particularly welcome the many students from various schools and universities, and I ask the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen you as you grow in knowledge and prepare for life’s challenges. Upon all of you I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

Wednesday 16 January 2002 - Psalm 41£[42] - The thirsting deer longs for streams of living water

Liturgy of Lauds for Monday of the second week

4 Ps 42

A deer with a parched throat cries out its lament in an arid desert longing for the fresh waters of a flowing stream. Psalm 41[42] that has just been sung opens with this famous image. We can see in it the symbol of the deep spirituality of this composition, a real pearl of faith and poetry. Indeed, according to experts in the Psalter, our psalm is closely linked with the one following, Psalm 42[43], from which it was separated when the psalms were put in order to form the prayer book of the People of God. In fact, in addition to being united by their topic and development, both psalms are dramatically interrupted by the same antiphon: "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God" (Ps 42,6 Ps 42,12 [41],6,12; Ps 43,5 [42],5). This appeal, repeated twice in our psalm and a third time in the one that follows, is an invitation the person praying addresses to himself, with a view to banishing melancholy by trusting in God who will certainly manifest himself again as Saviour.

2. But let us return to the image at the beginning of the Psalm; it would be pleasant to meditate upon it with the musical background of Gregorian chant or with the polyphonic masterpiece of Palestrina, Sicut cervus. In fact, the thirsting deer is the symbol of the praying person who tends with his whole being, body and soul, towards the Lord, who seems distant and yet very much needed: "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God" (Ps 42,3 [41],3). In Hebrew a single word, nefesh, means both "soul" and "throat". Therefore we can say that the body and soul of the person praying are absorbed by the primary, spontaneous and substantial desire for God (cf. Ps 62,2 [61],2). It is no accident that a long tradition describes prayer as a type of "breathing": it is as primeval, necessary and basic as life-giving breathing.

Origen, the great Christian author of the third century, explained that the human search for God is a never-ending venture because progress is ever possible and necessary. In one of his homilies on the Book of Numbers he writes: "Those who make their journey on the road to seek God's wisdom do not build permanent homes but mobile tents, for they are in constant movement covering new ground, and the further they go, the more the road that lies ahead of them opens up, presenting a horizon lost in immensity" (Homily XVII, In Numeros [on Numbers] GCS VII, 159-160).

5 3. Let us now try to set out the basic design of this supplication. We can think of it as composed of three actions, two of them belong to our psalm, while we find the third in the one that follows, Psalm 42[43], to be considered later. The first scene (cf. Ps 42,2-6 [41], 2-6) expresses deep longing, kindled by the memory of a past made happy by beautiful liturgical celebrations to which the one praying no longer has access: "These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival" (Ps 42,5).

"The house of God" with its liturgy, is that temple of Jerusalem which the faithful person once frequented; it is also the centre of intimacy with God, "the fountain of living waters" as Jeremiah sings (Jr 2,13). Now his tears at the absence of the fountain of life are the only water that glistens in his eyes (Ps 42,4 [41],4). The festive prayer of former times, raised to the Lord during worship in the temple, is now replaced by weeping, lament and supplication.

4. Unfortunately, a sorrowful present is contrasted with the serene and joyful past. The Psalmist now finds himself far from Zion: the horizon all around him is that of Galilee, the northern region of the Holy Land, suggested by the reference to the sources of the Jordan, the summit of Hermon from which this river flows, and another mountain, unknown to us, Mount Mizar (cf. Ps 42,7). Thus we are more or less in the region of the cataracts of the Jordan, the cascades that are the source of this river that flows through the entire Promised Land. However, these waters are not thirst-quenching as are those of Zion. Rather, in the eyes of the Psalmist, they are like the turbulent flood waters that devastate everything. He feels them falling upon him like a raging torrent that wipes out life: "All your waves and billows have gone over me" (Ps 42,8). In the Bible, chaos, evil and divine judgement are portrayed by the deluge that generates destruction and death (Gn 6,5-8 Ps 69,2-3 [68], 2-3).

5. The symbolic value of this irruption is defined later on. It stands for the perverse, the adversaries of the person praying, perhaps even the pagans who dwell in this remote region to which the faithful one has been banished. They despise the righteous person and deride him for his faith, asking him ironically: "Where is your God?" (Ps 42,11; cf. Ps 42,14). And to God he raises his anguished question: "Why have you forgotten me?" (Ps 42,10). The "why" addressed to the Lord, who seems absent on the day of trial, is typical of Biblical supplications.

Can God remain silent in the face of these parched lips that cry out, this tormented soul, this face that is about to be submerged in a sea of mud? Of course not! Hence once again, the person praying is encouraged to hope (cf. Ps 42,6 Ps 42,12). The third act, found in the next Psalm 42[43], will be a trusting invocation addressed to God (Ps 43,1 Ps 43,2 Ps 43,3 Ps 43,4 [42], 1, 2a, 3a, 4b) using words of joy and gratitude: "I will go to the altar of God, to God my joy, my delight".

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:

I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today's audience, especially the many student groups from the United States. My warm greeting also goes to the students of Saint Joseph School in Ringsted, Denmark. I thank the Choir from Jackson for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you and your families I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Holy Father ended by addressing the Italian faithful:

I cordially greet the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In particular, I greet the social and business leaders who support L'Osservatore Romano and are present here with their families. Dear friends, thank you for the generous readiness with which you work to insure that the Gospel message, the voice of the Successor of Peter and of the Magisterium of the Church, reach the greatest possible number of believers. May God make your collaboration fruitful.

My thoughts turn lastly to the young, to the sick, and to the newly-married couples. May the Feast of the Lord's Baptism that we celebrated last Sunday, reawaken in you, dear young people, the thought of your baptism and be an incentive to you to witness joyfully with faith in Christ; for you, dear sick people, may it be a comfort in suffering; and may it help you, dear newly married couples, to deepen your faith, to witness to it courageously and later to pass it on faithfully to your children. My Blessing to all of you.

Wednesday 23 January 2002 - Glimmers of Hope During the Exile - Canticle of Sirach 36,1-5.10-13

Lauds on Monday of the Second Week

6 Si 36,1-5 Si 36,10-13

1. There is not just the official prayer book of the People of God in the Old Testament, namely, the Psalter. Many Biblical pages are embellished with canticles, hymns, psalms, supplications, prayers and invocations that rise to the Lord as a response to his Word. The Bible thus turns out to be a dialogue of God with humanity, an interaction placed under the seal of the word of God, word of grace and love.

It is the case of the supplication that we have just addressed to "the Lord God of the universe" (Si 36,1). It is contained in the book of Sirach, a sage who gathered his reflections, counsels and hymns probably around 190-180 B.C. on the threshold of the epoch of liberation that Israel lived under the guidance of the Maccabees. In 138 B.C. a grandson of this sage translated into Greek, as he tells us in the prologue of the volume, the work of his grandfather in order to offer these teachings to a wider circle of readers and disciples.

The Book of Sirach is called "Ecclesiasticus" by the Christian tradition. Though it was not included in the Hebrew canon, this book, along with other "sapiential books", ended up setting forth the so-called "Christian truth" ("veritas Christiana"). Thus the values proposed by this sapiential work entered into Christian education in the Patristic age, above all, in the monastic world, becoming a manual of practical behaviour for the disciples of Christ.

2. The invocation of chapter 36 of Sirach, incorporated in a simplified form in the prayer of Lauds of the Liturgy of the Hours develops a few key themes.

Above all, we find the supplication to God to intervene in favour of Israel and against the foreign nations that oppress her. In the past God showed his holiness when he punished the sins of his people, by putting them in the hands of their enemies. Now the one praying asks God to show his greatness by undoing the power of his oppressors and establishing a new Messianic-like era.

Certainly, the request reflects the tradition of prayer in Israel, and in reality is full of Biblical references. In a certain sense, it can be considered a model of prayer to be used in time of persecution or oppression, as it was at the time the author lived, under the rather harsh and severe dominion of the foreign Syro-Hellenic sovereigns.

3. The first part of this prayer opens with an ardent appeal to the Lord that he may have mercy and pay attention to what is happening (cf. Si 36,1). But immediately attention is directed to the divine action, that is exalted by a series of remarkable verbs: "Have mercy ... pay attention ... put in dread ... raise your hand ... show yourself great ... renew your signs ... work new wonders ... glorify your hand and your right arm...".

7 The God of the Bible is not indifferent in the face of evil. Even if his ways are not our ways, and his times and plans are different from ours (cf. Is 55,8-9), yet he takes sides with the victims and will be a severe judge of the violent, the oppressor, those who triumph without showing mercy.

His intervention does not seek destruction. By showing his power and the faithfulness of his love, He can generate even in the conscience of the evil one a shudder that can lead to his conversion. "They will know, as we know, that there is no God but you, O Lord" (Si 36,4).

4. The second part of the hymn opens with a more positive perspective. In fact, while the first part asks for the intervention of God against one's enemies, the second part no longer speaks of enemies, but asks the favour of God for Israel, begs his mercy for the Chosen People and for the holy city, Jerusalem.

The dream of the return of those sent into exile, even those belonging to the Northern kingdom, became the goal of the prayer: "Gather all the tribes of Jacob, that they may inherit the land as of old" (Si 36,10). The prayer is for the rebirth of the entire Israel, as in the happy days of the occupation of the whole of the Promised Land.

In order to make the prayer more urgent, the one praying insists on the relation that binds God to Israel and Jerusalem. Israel is designated "the people called by your name", the "whom you have treated as your firstborn"; Jerusalem is "your holy city", "your dwelling place". It then expresses the desire that the relation become still closer and more glorious: "Fill Zion with your majesty, your people with your glory" (cf. Si 36,13). By filling with his majesty the Temple of Jerusalem, that will attract all nations to itself (cf. Is 2,2-4 Mi 4,1-3), the Lord will fill his people with his glory.

5. In the Bible, the lament of those who suffer never ends in desperation, but is always open to hope. It is based on the certainty that the Lord does not abandon his children, he does not let those he made fall out of his hands.

The selection made by the liturgy has left out a very beautiful expression in the prayer. It asks God to "give evidence to the creatures that are yours from the beginning" (Si 36,14). From all eternity God has a plan of love and salvation for all his creatures, called to become his people. It is a plan that St Paul recognized as "revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit ... the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Ep 3,5-11).

At the end of the commentary, the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims and visitors in French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Slovak and Italian.

In Italian he gave a special prayerful greeting to the pilgrimage of deaf mutes coming from various regions of Italy who belong to the National Organization for Deaf Mutes. He greeted those participating in study days on the Encyclical Letter, Laborem Exercens, organized by the Rural Environmental Industrial Nutritional Federation. He asked the young, the sick and the newly-wed to intensify their prayer for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. He asked young people to be witnesses of unity among their peers, the sick to offer their sufferings for Christian unity and the newly-weds to be of one heart and one mind in their future families.

I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, especially those from England, Denmark, Finland, Japan and the United States. I greet especially the Marist Brothers: may your time of renewal in Rome strengthen your commitment to teach the young the way of Christ. Upon all present I invoke the blessings of peace, and I ask you to be united spiritually with me and the representatives of the world religions as we go on pilgrimage to Assisi tomorrow in order to pray for peace in the world.

At the end of the audience, John Paul II appealed to the faithful to pray for the success of the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi. Here is a translation of his remarks.

As you know, tomorrow I will travel to Assisi, where, with the exponents of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities and with the Representatives of other religions, we will live a day dedicated to prayer for world peace. It will be a pilgrimage in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi, prophet and witness of peace.

I trust that this initiative, in addition to the spiritual effects that escape human calculations, may contribute to direct spirits and decisions toward sincere and courageous resolutions for justice and pardon. If this happens, we will have contributed to consolidating the bases of an authentic and lasting peace.

I invite the Catholic faithful to join their prayer with the prayer that we will make together as Christians in Assisi tomorrow, at the same time cultivating in their hearts sentiments of respect toward the followers of the other religions who have come together in the city of St Francis to pray for peace.

To everyone, individuals and communities, I express even now my heartfelt gratitude.

Wednesday 30 January 2002 - Psalm 18, God Creator creates brilliance of Sun

Ps 19

1. The sun, with its increasing brilliance in the heavens, the splendour of its light, the beneficial warmth of its rays, has captivated humanity from the outset. In many ways human beings have shown their gratitude for this source of life and well-being, with an enthusiasm that often reaches the peaks of true poetry. The wonderful psalm, 18[19], whose first part has just been proclaimed, is not only a prayerful hymn of extraordinary intensity; it is also a poetic song addessed to the sun and its radiance on the face of the earth. In this way the Psalmist joins the long series of bards of the ancient Near East, who exalted the day star that shines in the heavens, and which in their regions dominates with its burning heat. It reminds us of the famous hymn to Aton, composed by the Pharoah Akhnaton in the 14th century BC and dedicated to the solar disc regarded as a deity.

But, for the man of the Bible, there is a radical difference in regard to these hymns to the sun: The sun is not a god but a creature at the service of the one God and Creator. It is enough to think of the words of Genesis: "God said, "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.... God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.... And God saw that it it was good" (Gn 1,14 Gn 1,16 Gn 1,18).

2. Before examining the verses of the Psalm chosen by the liturgy, let us take a look at it as a whole. Psalm 18[19] is like a diptych: in the first part (Ps 19,2-7) - that has today become our prayer - we find a hymn to the Creator, whose mysterious greatness is manifest in the sun and in the moon. In the second part of the Psalm (Ps 19,8-15), instead, we find a sapiential hymn to the Torah, the Law of God.

A common theme runs through both parts: God lights the world with the brilliance of the sun and illuminates humanity with the splendour of his word contained in biblical Revelation. It is almost like a double sun: the first is a cosmic epiphany of the Creator; the second is a free and historical manifestation of God our Saviour. It is not by chance that the Torah, the divine Word, is described with "solar" features: "The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (Ps 19,9).

9 3. But let us now examine the first part of the Psalm. It begins with a wonderful personification of the heavens, that to the sacred author appear as eloquent witnesses to the creative work of God (Ps 19,2-5). Indeed, they "narrate", or "proclaim" the marvels of the divine work (cf. Ps 19,2). Day and night are also portrayed as messengers that transmit the great news of creation. Their witness is a silent one, but makes itself forcefully felt, like a voice that resounds throughout the cosmos.

With the interior gaze of the soul, men and women can discover that the world is not dumb but speaks of the Creator when their interior spiritual vision, their religious intuition, is not taken up with superficiality. As the ancient sage says: "from the greatness and beauty of created things their original author is seen by analogy" (Sg 13,5). St Paul too, reminds the Romans that "ever since the creation of the world, his (God's) invisible perfections can be perceived with the intellect in the works that have been made by him" (Rm 1,20).

4. The hymn then yields place to the sun. The shining globe is depicted by the inspired poet as a warrior hero who emerges from the marital chamber where he spent the night, that is, he comes forth from the heart of darkness and begins his unwearying course through the heavens (Ps 19,6-7). The sun is compared to an athlete, who does not know rest or fatigue, while our entire planet is enveloped in its irresistible warmth.

So the sun is compared to a bridegroom, a hero, a champion, who, by divine command, must perform a daily task, a conquest and a race in the starry spaces. And here the Psalmist points to the sun, blazing in the open sky, while the whole earth is wrapped in its heat, the air is still, no point of the horizon can escape its light.

5. The solar imagery of the Psalm is taken up by the Christian liturgy of Easter to describe Christ's triumphant exodus from the dark tomb and his entry into the fullness of the new life of the Resurrection. At Matins for Holy Saturday, the Byzantine liturgy sings: "As the sun rises after the night in the dazzling brightness of renewed light, so you also, O Word, will shine with new brightness, when after death, you leave your nuptial bed". An Ode (the first) for Matins of Easter links the cosmic revelation with the Easter event of Christ: "Let the heavens rejoice and the earth exult with them because the whole universe, visible and invisible, takes part in the feast: Christ, our everlasting joy, is risen". And another Ode (the third) adds: "Today the whole universe, heaven, earth, and abyss, is full of light and the entire creation sings the resurrection of Christ our strength and our joy". Finally, another (the fourth), concludes: "Christ our Passover is risen from the tomb like a sun of justice shining upon all of us with the splendour of his charity".

The Roman liturgy is not as explicit as the Eastern in comparing Christ to the sun. Yet it describes the cosmic repercussions of his Resurrection, when it begins the chant of Lauds on Easter morning with the famous hymn: "Aurora lucis rutilat, caelum resultat laudibus, mundus exultans iubilat, gemens infernus ululat" - "The dawn has spread her crimson rays, And heaven rings with shouts of praise; The glad earth shouts her triumph high, And groaning hell makes wild reply".

6. The Christian interpretation of the Psalm, however, does not invalidate its basic message, that is an invitation to discover the divine word present in creation. Of course, as stated in the second half of the Psalm, there is another and more exalted Word, more precious than light itself, that of biblical Revelation.

Anyway, for those who have attentive ears and open eyes, creation is like a first revelation that has its own eloquent language: it is almost another sacred book whose letters are represented by the multitude of created things present in the universe. St John Chrysostom says: "The silence of the heavens is a voice that resounds louder than a trumpet blast: this voice cries out to our eyes and not to our ears, the greatness of Him who made them" (PG 49,105). And St Athanasius says: "The firmament with its magnificence, its beauty, its order, is an admirable preacher of its Maker, whose eloquence fills the universe" (PG 27,124).

Today I offer a special word of greeting to the Vietnamese priests and religious from various countries participating in a spirituality programme, and to the priest graduates of Kenrick Seminary in Saint Louis celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary of ordination: may the light of the Risen Saviour continue to guide and strengthen you so that you may always bear effective witness to his mercy and love. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from Denmark, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

                                                                              February 2002